Community comes from the ability of each person to develop, change, and affect the areas in which we live. I have never felt like my actions and opinions have carried so much weight in one place until I moved to Hamilton.
By Ryan McInally
Published January 06, 2016
Last year, my wife and I started the process of looking for a home. This brought on a mixed bag of emotions. At first there was a sense excitement about the prospect of owning our own home. We talked about all the wonderful areas we wanted to live. We had recently moved into an apartment on the west end of Toronto and were really interested in buying property in that area.
Excitement faded quickly to disappointment as we realized if we were ever going to own our own home we would have to leave Toronto, and possibly the GTA. We had been priced out of the same neighbourhoods and cities we grew up in. Our only other option was to buy a condo, but this would admit to ourselves and each other that our dreams of owning an actual house just wasn't in the cards.
Sadness sank in, as did feelings of being defeated. Discussions took place about waiting for a potential house crash. Once I opened up these feelings to friends and family I realized that we weren't the only ones unsure of what to do.
Prices were breaking records, and that hasn't changed since we bought our house. There's a lot of uncertainty around when interest rates will go up and the effect that will have on the housing market.
Homes in Toronto are reportedly overvalued in the range from about 30-50%. Those numbers are heavily dependent on who is willing to offer up the information. Even with a 50 percent reduction, most first-time home buyers would still be priced out of most Toronto markets.
Several years back, I heard about the positive changes Hamilton was making. Every year I ended up downtown Hamilton for one reason or another, but didn't feel like it was the right time. I brought up the idea of buying a home in Hamilton to my wife and we spoke openly and honestly about how that would change our lives. There were and still are a lot of positives, but we also had some negatives on our list.
Once we did some research and realized that Hamilton was adding a GO train on the north end of the city in hopes of increasing the frequency of trains, we took the discussion more seriously. GO eventually plans to have all-day service from Niagara Falls to Union Station. If the lines are fully electrified, which will be the case at least to Aldershot GO in Burlington, we will see commute times improved in Hamilton. Electrifying the rails also opens the door for high-speed trains.
With the provincial government's commitment to fund a billion-dollar light rail transit (LRT) line connecting the lower city's east and west corridor, we saw a city receptive and willing to implement fast transit at the expense of the car owner.
Hamilton is also getting a second LRT spur line that will connect the West Harbor GO with the East and West LRT. Most fittingly, the line will run down James Street North, which is a model for change, growth and revitalization.
Fifteen years ago, James Street North was a shell of what it is today. Ron Corsini, a former councillor in Hamilton, famously said, "Shops and businesses are never going to return to James North. They're gone forever. Forget about it." Since then, community builders, artists, and entrepreneurs have brought life back this street.
As I walk down James Street North, I feel like I'm back in Toronto in a small neighbourhood, with a mix of galleries, cafes, and independent businesses geared toward bringing the community together. The hope is that one day the LRT running up James Street North will be connected south to the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport.
There is a belief that Hamilton will one day operate as a regional carrier for the Southern Ontario. Many see Hamilton's airport as an ideal place for a budget airline to operate out of. Currently, the airport's main function is the courier services for businesses like UPS and Purolator. Hamilton International has been in talks with three companies interested in operating a budget airline out of Hamilton.
Toronto Pearson Airport has long been criticized as having some of the world's highest landing fees and terminal charges. Many travelers have opted to go south of the border to Buffalo in order to get cheaper flights.
It's not just the cost savings that is driving the discussion of building up Hamilton's airport, it's also the capacity and demand of travelers. According the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, by 2040 airline passenger traffic in the Southern Ontario region is to exceed the combined capacity of all airports within the region.
Pearson has a limited ability to grow and expand as much of land surrounding the airport is already developed. Hamilton's airport, which is not currently running anywhere near peak capacity for travelers, is surrounded by a plethora of open land.
Every person I have met in Hamilton has been authentic about their desire to see Hamilton become a better place for people to live and work. There is a sense of community of people who are willing to support one another and take risks. Borrowing good ideas from other cities is a trend that continues to grow.
[The ?] Adventure is an escape room business that has been slotted to open in downtown Hamilton. The owners didn't have the funding so they were approved for a loan through a start-up program. The building they were interested in didn't have the proper zoning to be used as an Escape Room, so the City worked with them to find them a suitable property. The owners did not have the experience of opening or running a business, so the City partnered them with a mentor. At every level, those who live and work for city of Hamilton are willing to support entrepreneurs.
With the implementation of protected bike lanes and bicycle programs like Hamilton Bike Share, bicyclers can rent a bike at most major intersections and return the bike to any location in the city.
As we've recently seen in Brampton's rejection of $400 million of provincial funding to expand the planned LRT on Hurontario Street from Port Credit GO in Mississauga to Brampton GO through downtown Brampton, some cities and municipalities are not interested in making transit or pedestrians their primary focus.
My wife and I knew that if we were ever going to take on a reasonable mortgage we had to do it soon. We jumped in with both feet and ignored all the proverbial comments about Hamilton from colleagues and friends. Many saw the city for what it was, and not what it is or could be.
That is not to sugarcoat things. Hamilton has some rougher areas in the lower city that are depressed. My neighbourhood is one of them. But through all the good and bad, what I have here, and what I never had living in Mississauga, Brampton, or Oakville, is a sense of community.
Community comes from the ability of each person to develop, change, and affect the areas in which we live. I have never felt like my actions and opinions have carried so much weight in one place until I moved to Hamilton. People do not work in bubbles here, and this is a refreshing notion.
When someone asks if Hamilton has a particular business or organization and the answer is no, the person is then re-engaged by letting him or her know that is a great idea and they should consider doing it themselves.
Obviously, not everyone is an entrepreneur or interested in running their own business, but this discussion gets people talking about what does Hamilton have and what businesses could the city benefit from.
Hamilton is the fastest-changing city in the country. The Canadian and Mortgage Housing Corporation says that house prices are overvalued in Canada, but not Hamilton. There is a belief that Hamilton's house prices going up aren't fully related to the unaffordability of the Toronto market.
The big issue of the next ten years will be: how does a city change so much without losing its community of people who are caring, compassionate, and hard working?
Gentrification is happening almost at a systematic level here. Rents are going up and landlords are pushing out long-term residents for young would-be urbanists who have recently relocated here.
Home prices are rising faster than anywhere else in the country. Homes that were once used as multiple occupant residences are being converted back into single-family residences.
The real challenge will be: how do we move forward without leaving people behind? Every city that has seen significant gentrification has had to answer this question.
It has almost been a year since we bought our home. We have made enough equity in this short period of time to buy into the GTA market, but now that we're here we don't want to leave.
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